Monthly Archives: June 2019

US President Trump and Kim Jong-un share historic handshake in North Korea

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US President Donald Trump has shared a symbolic handshake with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the heavily fortified zone dividing the two Koreas.

Mr Trump became the first sitting US president to cross into North Korea after meeting Mr Kim at the demilitarised zone (DMZ).

Critics have dismissed it as pure political theatre, but others say it could set the scene for future talks.

With no time for the all-important backroom diplomacy, it is expected to be largely a photo opportunity. However, it will be seen as a sign of their ongoing commitment to the denuclearisation talks.


President Trump meets Kim Jong Un at the DMZ

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US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met and shook hands at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the border that separates the two Koreas.

President Trump then made history as he became the first sitting US president to step foot on North Korean soil. Trump crossed over the demarcation line separating North and South Korea at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“This is a historic moment,” Kim Jong Un said of President Trump stepping into North Korea.

“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump said, adding that his and Kim’s was a “great friendship.”

After President Trump walked over the border into North Korea, he shook hands with Kim Jong Un before the two turned back and walked into South Korea.

Trump tweets invitation to Kim Jong Un to meet in Demilitarized Zone

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President Donald Trump made an extraordinary public offer Saturday to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, inviting him to shake hands “and say hello” in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

Trump issued the invitation to the North Korean leader on Twitter as he started his final day in Japan before flying to Seoul, where Trump planned to meet with the South Korean president. “While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello (?)!” the president tweeted.

The White House declined to comment about any potential meeting beyond the president’s tweet. But Trump, minutes later said he’d merely “put out a feeler if he’d like to meet.”

“If he’s there, we’ll see each other for two minutes. That’s all we can,” Trump said.

If the meeting takes place, it will be the first time a U.S. and North Korean leader have met in the DMZ, which despite its name is the most heavily fortified border in the world. It would also mark the third face-to-face meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump, who made history in 2018 as the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader while in office.

Trump said that he and the North Korean leader “seem to get along very well,” calling it “a good thing.” He said it was a “certainty” that if he hadn’t been elected to the White House, the United States would be in a war with the country.


North Korea jockeys for a third summit

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On Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it won’t surrender to U.S.-led sanctions and accused Washington of trying to “bring us to our knees.” U.S. officials have said the sanctions will stay in place unless North Korea takes significant steps toward nuclear disarmament.

A statement from North Korea’s foreign ministry today said the U.S. “viciously slandered” the country, citing the recent release of US State Department reports about human trafficking and religious freedom that rank North Korea poorly, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments on Sunday reiterating that 80 percent of North Korea’s economy remains under U.S. sanctions.

North Korea also said that South Korea must stop trying to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington, as it stepped up its pressure on the United States to work out new proposals to salvage deadlocked nuclear diplomacy. The North Korean statement was an apparent continuation of its displeasure with Seoul and Washington over the stalled diplomacy.

Artwork courtesy San Diego Union Tribune

Talk of a revival of diplomacy has flared after Trump and Kim recently exchanged personal letters. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier this week that U.S. and North Korean officials were holding “behind-the-scene talks” to try to set up a third summit between Trump and Kim.

Meanwhile, fears are growing that North Korea has detained an Australian student living in Pyongyang, Alek Sigley, potentially complicating efforts among some Group of 20 nations to get Kim Jong Un back to nuclear talks.


Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 1

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Young-jun Park recalls life in North Korea as defined by deprivation. Food shortages that wrought starvation. The lack of health care that brought more death. Park and his family eventually found their way to Seoul. In the ensuing years, he finished high school and graduated college, and he now works at a nonprofit funded by the South Korean government that assists North Korean refugees. “North Koreans are struggling so much,” Park says.

Reports from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. show that little progress on human rights has occurred in North Korea since Mr. Park fled in 2009, or in the five years since a U.N. investigation found that its government had committed “a wide array of crimes against humanity.”

The state-imposed violations include forced labor for adults and students, torture and execution of political prisoners, and pervasive abuse of women, children, and people with disabilities. Civil liberties enshrined in the country’s constitution – freedom of speech, religion, and the press – remain a mirage.

The funneling of state resources into weapons programs, coupled with a poor harvest season and the impact of international sanctions, has created a food crisis for some 10 million North Koreans, 40% of the population. Human rights advocates warn of a recurrence of the mid-1990s famine that killed as many as 3 million people if conditions fail to improve.

North Korea has enlisted China’s help to stop the flow of refugees – the Chinese government sends back defectors as a matter of policy – and those arrested face punishment ranging from indefinite prison terms to the death penalty. Even so, desperate to find freedom, thousands attempt to flee every year.

“They know there’s no future in North Korea,” says Gyoung-bin Ko, president of the Hana Foundation. “They want to give a better life to their children.” Read more

Human rights related to North Korean nuclear talks Part 2

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Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations confirm that a thriving North Korea exists only in propaganda promoted by President Kim Jong Un. Yet as U.S. and South Korean officials seek to persuade him to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, they have seldom broached the issue of human rights.

The omission has drawn scrutiny from advocates as much for the proximity and shared history of the countries as for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s background as a human rights lawyer. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon, asserts that pushing human rights to the fore would sink negotiations.  “You can’t raise human rights with North Korea. If you do, they won’t listen after that,” Chung-in Moon says. He views defusing the nuclear threat as a necessary first step. “Once we solve that, then we can address the issue of human rights, and North Korea will be more open to doing its part.”

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, considers the silence from U.S. and South Korean officials on North Korea’s living conditions a form of abandonment. “A nuclear deal might be good for the rest of the world,” he says. “But it won’t change the lives of the North Korean people one bit.”

The Hana Foundation, established by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification in 2010, provides an array of resettlement services to refugees. Mindful of the ministry’s oversight, Gyoung-bin Ko the president of the Hana Foundation, demurs on the subject of whether government officials should press Mr. Kim on human rights. He says simply, “We have a long way to go.”

“Peace will mean the end of sanctions and bring outside investment,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm. “That will be the biggest driver of human rights.”

[Christian Science Monitor]

Two North Korean defectors arrive at South Korean port in fishing boat

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The South Korean Prime Minister apologized to North Korea late last week for a security lapse that allowed a North Korean fishing boat to spend two and a half days in its waters without being noticed.

A 33-foot wooden boat crossed the maritime border with South Korea last week with four North Korean men on board, and docked at Samcheok, a port 80 miles south of the border. One of the four North Koreans then came ashore, telling a South Korean villager that he came from the North and asking to borrow a cellphone so he could call an aunt who had earlier defected to the South.

During an initial interrogation by the South Korean authorities, two of the four North Koreans said they wanted to defect to the South. The other two were returned to the North on Tuesday over the land border.

The government’s apology came on the same day that President Xi Jinping of China arrived in North Korea for a state visit with Kim Jong-un.

South Koreans remain deeply worried about any breach of the border. Nearly two million troops on both sides of the border are on constant alert against possible intruders.

[New York Times]

North Korea’s trade relationship with China as “lips and teeth”

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Seoul’s Industrial Bank of Korea’s North Korean Economy Research Center said Tuesday trade between North Korea and its most important trading partner China increased year-on-year over the past three months, ending in May. The South Korean research report used trade statistics from the Chinese government, then parsed the gathered data.

North Korea’s import of goods from China has reached its highest level since November 2017, South Korean researchers said. North Korea imported more from China than it exported, causing a deficit. Exports in May were up 25.2 percent year-on-year, and imports were also up, by 18.9 percent, from same time last year.

International sanctions against Pyongyang for nuclear weapons development had significantly lowered bilateral trade, but rising economic activity indicates China has become more willing to “influence North Korea” in a period of improved ties, the analysts added.

North Korea is also turning toward a greater dependency on China, according to the research.

North Korea’s relationship to China has been historically described as “lips and teeth,” a blood alliance forged during the 1950-53 Korean War.


Kim Jong Un received ‘personal letter’ from Trump, says North Korean state media

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a “personal letter” from US President Donald Trump, according to North Korean state news agency KCNA, which reported that Kim “said with satisfaction that the letter is of excellent content,” after reading it.

“Kim Jong Un said that he would seriously contemplate the serious content” and appreciated the “extraordinary courage of President Trump,” KCNA added.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed a letter was exchanged, saying, “A letter was sent by President Trump and correspondence between the two leaders has been ongoing.”

Earlier this month, Trump told reporters about a “beautiful letter” he received from Kim, the first since the February summit in Hanoi that saw both leaders leave empty-handed. “I appreciated the letter,” Trump said at the time. He did not reveal the contents of the letter.

An administration official described the letter as a “birthday greeting.” Trump’s birthday was that week and the official says Kim wished the President good health.


Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping agree to grow ties whatever the external situation

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s President Xi Jinping reached a consensus on “important issues,” and agreed to build on their countries’ friendly relations “whatever the international situation,” North Korean state media reported.

Xi left the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Friday after a two-day visit, the first by a Chinese leader in 14 years. China is North Korea’s only major ally and Xi’s visit was aimed at bolstering the isolated country against pressure from United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes and stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

The visit comes a week before Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet at a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, amid a trade dispute that has rattled global financial markets.

North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA reported that during a luncheon on the final day of Xi’s visit the leaders discussed plans to strengthen collaboration, as well as their countries’ “major internal and external policies”, while exchanging views on domestic and international issues of mutual concern.

An editorial in the official China Daily on Saturday warned that Xi’s short visit to Pyongyang would not solve all the region’s problems, but pledges to help develop the North Korean economy the right way forward.